In the Kitchen with Barrett Meeks

September 04, 2012

From the latest issue of Food, Nutrition and Science, we talked with Louisiana chef and restaurant owner, Barrett Meeks, about the importance of sustainability in the kitchen.

This article was originally published on Food, Nutrition & Science.

Barrett Meeks is chef and part owner of The Bengalier, a gourmet sandwich truck based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Meeks began his journey into the culinary world as a dishwasher at a favorite local restaurant, The Chimes East, where he moved up the ranks and began studying at the Louisiana Culinary Institute. After learning classic French and Creole cooking at Galatoire's, Meeks worked as a line cook at a wine bar until he was promoted to executive chef. We spoke to Meeks about the importance of listening to your customers while keeping them on their toes.

What is the main focus of your cooking?

My main focus is to bring enjoyment to my customers or really whomever I'm cooking for.  

Is there a particular nutritional focus of your menus?
Not in particular. I was trained at a French and Creole restaurant where we used butter and cream for everything. I do however try and include healthy alternatives in my menus because I believe that this country has an obsession with food, particularly fried food, and if someone wants to eat a healthier option, I completely support that.

What is your relationship with local farmers?

I try and go to the local farmers market when I can because I'm a big advocate for the farm-to-table movement.

Are you incorporating locally grown foods into your dishes? How?

I try to use locally grown foods as much as possible in my dishes. There's a certain freshness to the ingredients that is missing when you order bulk products. For example, I try and use local Creole tomatoes when they are in season, or fresh okra from a produce stand instead of frozen.

What are the major concerns today of your readers when it comes to eating on the go? And how are you addressing them?

I know that in today's world it is easier to go pick up some burgers from the drive-through. However, I do think moderation is very important because fast food can be incredibly unhealthy. I'm pretty vocal in my disdain for fast food, because I get asked if I still eat at fast food establishments. I try and make all my food from scratch, so it is healthier while coming up with new dishes that big restaurants cannot replicate.

How important is sustainability?

Next to providing quality dishes, it should be the next concern of a chef. There a lot of different factors that go into a sustainable food supply, from feeding animals antibiotics because of the conditions they are kept in to the irradiation of foods for longer shelf life – possibly depleting the vitamin content of those foods. I want the highest quality products for my dishes, which means I prefer to use all natural beef and vegetables that have not been genetically modified.

What steps does you take toward conservation in your meal planning?

I like to keep my menus seasonal, using ingredients I know I can get fresh. Also I try not to use products that I know are hurting the environment. For example, I stay away from Chilean sea bass because of the use of long lines to catch them. Monterey Bay Aquarium ( is doing a wonderful job of bringing attention to this by recommending better ocean-friendly alternatives for seafood.

This article was originally published on Food, Nutrition & Science.